Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Independent Film Festival Boston 2013 Day 02: Tokyo Waka and Wasteland

Both of these films were in The Somerville Theatre's #4 screen, and if you're the sort who tends to take note of these things (or have just paid attention to recurring things on this blog), you know what even-numbered screens there mean - center aisles, no leg room, looking way up if you wind up near the front. During the festival, I'll tend to be one of the first ones in, grab an aisle seat, and then get climbed over right up until the movie starts. Part of it's my fault, but part of it's "why can't you people hit the concession stand and the restroom before taking your seat like I do?"

At least some of that, apparently, is going to be eased in the coming week as they've announced that they're installing new seating with more leg room in screens #2-5 as soon as the festival's done, which will bring tears of joy to regular customers' eyes. I suspect that probably means losing a row or two of seating, but that will likely only really hurt during festival week, but as someone who spent what seems like half ost of the past week in screen #4, I don't mind; I honestly can't imagine what folks larger than my 179cm (5'10") think.

Anyway, enough about the venue - movies!

Kristine Samuelson & John Haptas photo IMAG0350_zps4c5579d1.jpg

No, I don't imagine that the new arrangement will do anything about festival-week Horrible Photography. Hey, it could be worse; John Haptas has a weirdly-shaped head in the pictures taken on my camera rather than my phone. As you can see, he and Kristine Samuelson came to introduce and discuss their movie, although it's short and simple enough that there wasn't a great deal to discuss. They apparently spent some time traveling in southeast Asia, looking for a movie to make, eventually finding both a comfort level and a topic when they hit Tokyo and observed the crows.

One thing Haptas mentioned that I think we all know but tend not to give a lot of thought is that you can make up for not having much in the way of material resources with time. For him, that means sitting on top of a building next to a tree all afternoon if that's what it takes to watch a pair of crows build a nest out of stolen coat-hangers, while other filmmakers can edit until things are just right or render their CGI in great detail because they're not staring at a staked-out release date. Of course, there are other pressures that make time translate into expense, but I suspect they're less onerous than one might think for the truly independent.

One thing I do kind of wish I'd asked during the Q&A was how threatening they intended the crows in their movie to be. I don't know if it's a flaw that they kept finding ways to present them as worrisomely intelligent and adaptable, letting that stew, and then popping up a shot that wouldn't have felt out-of-place in The Birds without ever really paying that tension off - the tension was probably a non-universal and accidental side-effect - but I swear, I spent half of that movie expecting a really horrible attack as opposed to the relatively mild ones they found in their stock footage.

Tokyo Waka

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2013 in Somerville Theatre #4 (Independent Film Festival Boston, digital)

It's not uncommon to watch a documentary and say that the scale is in-between the usual levels, neither comprehensive nor truly a broad introduction. Tokyo Waka at times seems to be around those extremes, covering an extremely specific topic but without a great deal of detail. It's often pretty and kind of interesting, and that may be all someone wants from a movie about Tokyo which focuses on its crows.

And Tokyo does have a lot of crows; a city official says that roughly six hundred crow attacks are reported each year, and attempts to reduce that number by capturing and humanely killing them often seem to have the result of making the next generation of these unusually clever birds even smarter. Cities provide them with a dynamic environment for nest-building and scavenging, and an architect suggests a couple of reasons why Tokyo may draw them more than usual: It's a very three-dimensionally-complex city with many nooks and crannies, and the average residential building has a mere thirty-year lifespan, meaning there are always a great deal of construction sites.

The engineer isn't the only person co-directors John Haptas & Kristine Samuelson talk to; there are students, zookeepers, artists, keepers of a Buddhist temple, street-food vendors and a young homeless woman living in the park. Some are experts, some are just people who have encountered crows in their lives, and others just appear to be people that the filmmakers met while living in Tokyo who may have an interesting story to tell. The interviews may not often be particularly revelatory but usually have at least one interesting nugget of information (for instance, I have a hard time imagining a tent city in an American park getting regular mail delivery).

Full review on eFilmCritic.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2013 in Somerville Theatre #4 (Independent Film Festival Boston, digital)

What, exactly, is the difference between a crime movie and a caper movie? Scale? The intricacy of the plan? Do the characters being a notch more charming or less working-class change the classification? Or is this just a distinction that vanishingly few people care about? Rowan Athale's Wasteland, you see, is right on the border, centering on the one big score but still getting kind of dirty on the way.

There's a saying that prison gives petty crooks a chance to learn the skills to become career felons, and that may be the case with Harvey (Luke Treadaway), emerging after a year behind bars with a potential business opportunity in Amsterdam and a plan to raise the stake that involves robbing the man who set him up, local gangster Steven Roper (Neil Maskell). He brings in three friends - best mate Dempsey (Iwan Rheon), tradesman Charlie (Gerard Kearns), and hot-headed Dodd (Matthew Lewis) - but while he's learned a thing or two inside, most of them aren't even small time, and maybe not completely sold on packing up and leaving Leeds, let alone England, behind. It may not matter, since a well-bloodied Harvey is explaining everything to a CID detective-inspector (Timothy Spall).

Athale's story is firmly in film noir territory, though it lacks a classic femme fatale (Vanessa Kirby's Nicola is an ex-girlfriend who wants Harvey on the straight and narrow). It's a distinctively English one, though, with regional accents that it might take Americans a few minutes to get used to and a setting that still feels industrial even if industry has by and large been gone for a while. There are areas on Harvey's plans that are actually marked "wasteland" but the empty pubs and industrial spaces where the friends meet tell the story of the place as well as anything. It's not completely barren yet, but it might be on its way.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Independent Film Festival Boston 2013 Opening Night: The Spectacular Now

First day of the festival! Well, it was four days ago (five by the time this gets posted), but seeing a bunch of movies doesn't leave one a whole bunch of time to write about them. Trying to more or less go in order when this is the opening night picture also turns out to be tough, but we'll get to that later.

I was actually running behind from the start; I usually attend on a press pass, but I missed the deadline for applying this year. While eFilmCritic has had its challenges over the past year, it's not like I was worried about not getting accredited; I just tend to be very sequential, and by the time I'd finished with all the reviews for the Boston Underground Film Festival, the deadline had passed. Thoroughly embarrassing, but it's not like I mind giving the IFFBoston people money. They're all-volunteer and do great work; it's not like they're getting rich off these donations/purchases (and I can't say I'd mind if they did).

I continued running late because of work - whole day of nothing, then emails with needs at 4:30pm - so when I arrived to pick up my pass, there wasn't any need to queue up, just head straight in and find myself a row well-off-center in the front row, and enjoy the theremin.

Theremin! photo IMAG0346_zps43465d91.jpg

Not sure how this became a thing, but it has; I think there's been theremin before opening night for five years now. It's always cool, though.

IFFBoston Staff photo IMAG0347_zpsc6df5918.jpg

If you've been coming to the festival for a while, you know these folks by now: Brian Tamm, Adam Roffman, Christine Harbaugh, Nancy Campbell, and Dan McCallum. The fellow on the right may also be familiar; it's Casey Affleck, who was announced as a "Creative Consultant" a couple months back. As an outsider, I don't necessarily know what any of the folks involved do, specifically, and that seems like an even more nebulous position. Still, having a guy with that sort of name recognition in Hollywood might help them bring in more prominent narrative features.

Also, he's a decent arm. One of the things that they do at the start of the opening and closing nights is give away previous years' t-shirts (and some new ones) by throwing them into the crowd, and getting them into the balcony is rare. I don't know if Casey got one up there, but I saw him wince after one toss, so I'm guessing that someone wound up with a t-shirt by catching it in the face.

 photo IMAG0349_zpsdd6ba9b8.jpg
Adam and The Spectacular Now's James Ponsoldt (director) & Michael H. Weber (screenwriter)

Anyway, that's the festival; what about the movie? It's pretty good, although it took me a while to write the review, just out of being busy. The film itself made it a bit tricky, too - at one frustrated point, I figured it was an example of how a movie could be good without actually being interesting. It's a somewhat unfair judgment, which reflects the way I feel about coming-of-age movies more than anything - basically, they really have to be something special, because otherwise, they're kind of as same-y as genre films are often accused of being, at least in the broad strokes.

The Spectacular Now

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 April 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP?)

It's hard enough to try to review the first films to play a festival, writing a paragraph at a time between other screenings, but something like The Spectacular Now makes it even more difficult. It's does almost nothing wrong and the cast is pretty great. It's easy enough to recommend, though, managing to be quite good if not quite, well, spectacular.

Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) was just dumped by his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) over something that seems innocent enough, although given how quickly she's paired up with star athlete Marcus (Dayo Okeniyi), she might have just been looking for an excuse. Upset, Sutter gets drunk, and is found passed out the next morning by Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley) on her paper route. They start hanging out together.

Kids grow up so fast today. Time was, you'd get movies about troubled teenagers and movies about alcoholics driving their lives into the ground, and they'd be separate movies made for separate audiences. This two-for-one deal of a movie hardly chronicles a new phenomenon, and it's certainly not the first time I've seen teenagers drinking on-screen, but I don't know if it's ever been so central to the characters rather than just a reaction to other things going on. In fact, it still mostly plays that way - it's not about people feeling like they need to help Sutter get sober, so the audience will tend to look elsewhere for some other root to his issues until it eventually becomes clear that this is something pervasive, not a weekend-binging reaction.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 26 April - 2 May 2013

I really need to sleep after that massive This Week Month in Tickets, so let's race through this.

  • The Tenth Annual Independent Film Festival Boston has begun and it is fantastic. Go to their website, scope out all the great stuff playing, and remember that I recommend Sightseers and The Hunt wholeheartedly, having seen them in the UK last fall. The Festival runs at the Somerville, and the Brattle all weekend, with single shows at the former Stuart Street Playhouse (now the Revere Hotel's "Theatre1") on Monday and the Coolidge Corner Theatre on Tuesday.
  • That Closing Night presentation at the Coolidge Corner Theatre is In A World..., but they've got other noteworthy stuff as well. Granted, their main opening is Hava Nagila: The Movie in the screening room, a documentary on a song which is a bit of Jewish kitsch. They also pick up The Company You Keep in 35mm, which should look pretty nice.

    In terms of specials, one noteworthy one is Sunday morning's Goethe-Institut German Film, Hannah Arendt, with Margarethe von Trotte as the Jewish journalist whose coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial was not what anyone expected. It's a preview, with a regular run scheduled for July. Yet another Jewish-oriented event comes Monday night, with Alicia Svigals performing her new score to silent movie The Yellow Ticket with pianist Marilyn Lerner; there will be other multimedia components and a post-film panel discussion. The weekend's midnights are David Lynch's Lost Highway as part of the "road trips from (to?) hell" series, and Quentin Dupieux's awesomely absurd Wrong, both on Friday and Saturday.
  • If you're at the festival or can't stay up late for Wrong, the Brattle will be playing it on Wedesday and Thursday (1 & 2 May) as part of a double feature with Dupieux's equally but differently bizarre Rubber. That's after spending the weekend as one of IFFBoston's venues, and shutting down Monday & Tuesday for a quick between-festival rest.
  • If the indie stuff isn't your bag, the multiplexes have some powerfully mainstream openings. Pain & Gain is apparently a "smaller film" for Michael Bay, but it's still crammed with big stars (Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Ed Harris) in an over-the-top story about not-so-bright bodybuilders kidnapping a Miami mobster. It plays the Arlington Capitol, Fenway (including RPX), Boston Common, and Fresh Pond. Presumably The Big Wedding is female-oriented counter-programming, with a decent ensemble (Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfrien, Robin Williams) in a remake of a French farce about a divorced couple who fakes still being together for their son's weding. It plays Boston Common and Fenway.

    Interestingly, the multiplexes go different directions to fill some extra screens before Iron Man 3 wipes everything clean with night-before shows on Thursday. Fenway picks up The Company You Keep and is also the only place on the T opening Arthur Newman, with Colin Firth as a man who fakes his death to start a new life, romancing Emily Blunt, who has done something similar. Boston Common, meanwhile, opens Mud, with Matthew McConaughey apparently continuing a string of great parts. He's hiding out on an island in the Mississippi, but looking to reunite with his girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon). Neither, apparently, has room for Tai Chi Hero, to which I say boo! I totally would have caught a Friday midnight around the festival!
  • Kendall Square also has Mud opening, along with two movies that seem like a potential double feature: The Angels' Share, a comedy from Ken Loach (really!) about a parolee who gets involved with distilling whiskey and an attempt to steal a rare cask, and My Brother the Devil, where brothers of Arabic descent in London walk the line between crime and a better future. Oddly, Devil is the one marked with the one-week booking while Angels' is supposedly open-ended.
  • It's fairly quiet at the MFA's film program. There are three Samurai Cinema screenings Harakiri on Friday night, Kwaidan on Wednesday the 1st, and Ran on Thursday the 2nd. There's also an afternoon screening of Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast on Tuesday as part of their "Myths, Folklore, and Fairy Tales from Around the World" course.
  • The ICA has the opening night film of The Boston LGBT Film Festival on Thursday night with Bye Bye Blondie, a new film by Virginie Despentes about two middle-aged women trying to rekindle their teenage affair. Supposedly it's lighthearted, despite Despentes's track record. The festival will continue at the ICA for a few more screenings and also settle in at the Brattle and MFA.
  • the Harvard Film Archive has two screenings of Paolo & Vittorio Taviani's new film Caesar Must Die on Friday (6pm) and Sunday (5pm). They also continue the L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema series, with a pair of features from the 1990s - Compensation at 9pm Friday and Daughters of the Dust at 7pm Saturday - and three different collections of featurettes at 9:15pm Saturday and 7pm Sunday & Monday.
  • iMovieCafe goes with Telugu-language Shadow for the most part, although with a couple screenings of Gunde Jaari Gallanthayyinde (also Telugu) mixed in during the weekend.
  • While the Somerville Theatre is booked up for IFFBoston, the Arlington Capitol picks up Oz: The Great and Powerful; it will return (along with Evil Dead, Spring Breakers, and Scary Movie 5) when the festival leaves on Tuesday.

My plans? Living at IFFBoston, and then decompressing afterward, although the Wrong/Rubber double feature is tempting.

This Week Month In Tickets: 25 March 2013 - 21 April 2013

So, between BUFF at the start of this four-week period and the chaos at the end, and being busy seeing movies and baseball in between, this has slipped. Sorry. At least there's nothing coming up to keep it from happening again...

Oh, right, IFFBoston started tonight. Well, let's hope it doesn't slip quite so much.

25 March - 31 March
1 April - 7 April
8 April - 14 April
15 April - 21 April

This Week in Tickets

Not going to lie - when I left for the last day of BUFF, I was hoping that they'd be using green tickets for passholders that day. Wouldn't that have looked cool? Instead, they used purple, but also just took them instead of ripping them instead of waving us in. It's like they don't care how an obscure blog looks at all!

As you can see, it was a busy week - Lore on what I think was its last week in town, Spring Breakers, and all five days of the Boston Underground Film Festival (count 'em - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5!). Plus, apparently, it was Easter or something on Sunday. Apparently that's a thing.

Spring Breakers

* * (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)

While waiting in one of the two or three lines necessary for to get into BUFF the next night, I heard a group of people dissing Stoker and praising Spring Breakers, and, man, I had a hard time imagining people being more wrong. Actually, I can - Spring Breakers is not an actual terrible movie, just one that failed to impress me.

This is where I half-expect people to tell me I didn't get it, but I think I did - I just didn't like it. Sure, writer/director Harmony Korine exaggerates the whole "Girls Gone Wild" phenomenon by using actresses known for their wholesome Disney Channel material and pushing the exploitation story from semi-innocent/supposedly-empowering half-naked-girl-power into straight-up psychopathy. That's kind of clever, but it's also just about of the end of what Korine does with it. So, ha-ha, bros, that tacky thing you idiots go for is actually really vile, and I've managed to lure you into a movie that insults you by making a satire almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

It's just mean, and it's not mean to go along with an interesting story - I never cared about what James Franco's character was up to as a local gangster, nor the self-discovery of the four girls who fall in with him. It's just stuff that happens, and all Korine has done is to mock something everybody mocks already. Sure, it's better-shot and the girls (Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Benson) play their parts well, but, honestly, it's a parlor trick, and a boring one at that.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: Renoir at the Coolidge (10am, Sunday 7 April 2013)

After a festival, it's nice to decompress for a bit, spend some time just writing and watching baseball on TV. Well, fat chance. Starbuck was only going to be playing for that one week, Thale only for the one night, and then the Brattle did their Schlock Around the Clock even the next weekend. At least that was a fun event, with lots of spiffy 35mm prints. Thale was okay, although I hoped for a bit more from it. Starbuck was also pretty charming; I wound up quite fond of it. And while Renoir wasn't great, it certainly looked great.

I considered going to more of Schlock Around the Clock, actually, but...

Evil Dead (2013)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 6 April 2013 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, DCP)

... I wanted to see the new Evil Dead with an opening weekend crowd after the sun went down and that's when I had my chance. Horror movies, like comedies, are best with a crowd to feed off each other's reactions, so even when you don't necessarily like the way other people in the theater act, it's what you have to have.

The kind of funny thing about this verison of Evil Dead is that it kind of suffers for being an "Evil Dead" movie, at least if you're familiar with the source material. Director Fede Alvarez, his writing partner Rodo Sayagues (and an uncredited Diablo Cody) put together a fine spam-in-a-can movie, no dobut, but they've also built it around Mia (Jane Levy) trying to quit drugs cold-turkey, and that suggests a story where you don't necessarily know how much of what we're seeing is real and how much is in her head. Of course, we know what Evil Dead is (and we've seen how this one opens), so that specific suspense isn't really there even though the cast is good enough to play it. There's still some more depth to the story - it ultimately becomes about being there for family as much as just random mayhem - but the dismemberment is what you're there for.

Still, Alvarez and company are able to keep this a damn fine experience in grueling horror even as they wink at the source material, tending to fake the audience out - we gird ourselves against what we remember from the original movie only to have things veer off in a new gross manner. One of the fun things about the Evil Dead series is that everybody gets to play both hero and villain at some point, and another is the copious blood, which Alvarez doesn't stint with. It's not the most original horror movie, but it is pretty intense for something with a studio behind it.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: Jurassic Park at Jordan's Furniture Reading (2:15pm, Sunday 14 April 2013)

My first trip to Fenway Park this year was a heck of a way to spend an evening - what started out as a pretty good game with the Red Sox appearing to have things in hand wound up having a pretty miserable rain delay in the middle, and then the end featured an epic ninth-inning collapse. You leave the ballpark kind of stunned after that.

But, before that, I did a couple of nights seeing things by interesting directors. Sharply different results: The Host made me downright angry at how the apparent terribleness of the source material seemed to take down a decent filmmaker in Andrew Niccol, while Christian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills wound up being right up my alley, an insistent indictment of religion, although one that seems to lead the audience to its position rather than browbeating them.

It was back to Kendall Square on Saturday night for a double feature, although that wasn't the original plan - I'd originally gone to Boston Common to see 42, only to find the showtime that worked for me wasn't in MoviePass's database. So, turn around and head back to Cambridge, pick Koch based on starting time, a likely short run, and a director Q&A, follow that up with From Up on Poppy Hill, because it's a quick turnaround.

Sunday started out as 3D-day, where I used a voucher to see the cheap show of G.I. Joe: Retaliation and then hopped a train and bus to make it to Jordan's Furniture just in time for Jurassic Park in Imax 3D. A little grocery baseball on TV and I was ready to see The Company You Keep to round the week out. I had no idea that I would kind of need to store moviegoing up!

Kokuriko-zaka kara (From Up on Poppy Hill)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 April 2013 in Landmark Kendall Square #18 (first-run, DCP, English Dubbed)

When this movie got booked, I found myself grumbling a bit - while the company that distributes the movie is called "GKids", Studio Ghibli's films do have a substantial adult audience that generally prefers to see them subtitled, and since you'd no longer have to wrangle two prints to show both English and Japanese versions (even if a DCP doesn't have the subtitling and soundtrack options of a DVD, handling two hard drives shouldn't be difficult). But, no, not even the 9:10pm show is subtitled.

At least this time it's a pretty good dub. Part of the reason for it, I think, is that the screenplay (by, among others, Hayao Miyazaki) feels a little less formal than other Ghibli films involving teenagers - at least in the English-language version, these kids quip and joke with each other, and the girls aren't particularly shy or demure, even when they've got a crush on a boy. And while much of the voice casting is decent but low-key, Beau Bridges really should do more anime dubbing; he nails the bigger-than-life personality of a certain character type perfectly.

Amid all the fun, the movie throws up some serious obstacles to its first-love plot, and while it could be all gnashing of teeth, it's maturely matter-of-fact, with one character even stating that he's not going to act like he's in some TV melodrama. Director Goro Miyazaki and the writers turn the screws a little bit, recognizing that sometimes knowing something awful isn't as bad as not knowing whether something awful is true. The resolution is somewhat pat, but it's something the movie has quietly earned, so the audience isn't likely to mind.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

* * (out of four)
Seen 14 April 2013 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, Real-D 3D)

What a peculiar thing G.I. Joe: Retaliation is - it's a direct follow-up to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, picking up on that movie's ending, but pretty much wiping the slate clean, character-wise. It's the ultimate example of the brand beign the drawas opposed to the cast or filmmakers. And, honestly, I don't really think the first needed such a complete purge - it has its weaknesses, but it was fun more often than not.

This one has a decent cast of Joes - I'm generally not going to complain about Dwayne Johnson and Adrianne Palicki starring in a movie - but the ninja stuff is kind of a waste of Lee Byung-hun, despite containing the best action scene in the movie. Bruce Willis is kind of superfluous; I can't see how the movie would be much different without him. The trouble is the villains. Johnathan Pryce, playing a master of disguise who has replaced the President of the United States, is entertaining, but clearly not the alpha villain; Luke Bracey's Cobra Commander is generic and off-screen through much of the movie.

Plus, the climax is off in every way possible. Forget the question of just how the ninjas wind up being brought into Cobra's inner circle pretty much overnight; that might be boring and easy to cut. We don't get that big special-effects scene of London being devastated until late in the last act, when having it earlier could have really defined the stakes more than "the one guy who came back from the first movie dies", and it makes the Joes' response look kind of small-potatoes.

Jurassic Park

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 April 2013 in Jordan's Furniture Reading (20th Anniversary re-release, Imax-branded 3D)

Guys, Jurassic Park is still pretty darn awesome. Sure, it hits some of its themes without subtlety, and the characters Steven Spielberg inherited from Michael Crichton's novel are kind of thin. As a guy who loves science, I kind of hate Crichton's distrust of it, here personified in the most obnoxious way possible by Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm. But the filmmakers set out to create the best action/adventure featuring dinosaurs eve, and they succeeded.

When you've got some time, take a look at the first big action scene, when the T-Rex attacks the jeeps, and kind of marvel at how great Spielberg is at putting it together. He takes what had been kind of a funny scene - the characters being disappointed that the dinosaurs aren't showing up - and then builds the tension up just enough so that we're ready for the big jump into all-out action. There's horror movie gore in it as the goat's leg lands on the jeep, freaking the kids out, and then once the T-Rex shows up, it's a masterfully composed sequence: The dinosaur's head pushes the car, the people scramble to stay behind it, pushing down on the overturned car makes it harder to get out, this motion leads to the edge (which appears to go down forever due to a nifty 3D effect), which Alan and Lex have to climb down, leading to the car... There's a ton of moving parts, but Spielberg and cinematographer Dean Cundey always have the exact right angle to show what's going on without resorting to slow motion or just having two things smash into another and calling that action. It's one thing leading to another clearly and quickly, and right in the middle, Spielberg injects some of the themes that define his work, with a panicky Lex crying "he left us!" - referring to the lawyer who had been sharing the kids' jeep, but remember that she and Timmy are on this trip because their parents are going through a divorce, so this big action scene how has this very human dimension injected into it without reducing the crazy science fiction stuff to a mere metaphor.

Seriously, that's one of the best action sequences ever made. And there's two or three more like it coming, including some virtuoso editing when Grant & the kids are climbing the fence while Ellie & Muldoon are trying to switch the power on with Malcolm & Hammon on the other end of the walkie talkie. "Clever girl!" The can full of embryos becoming a fossil itself. "Let's hope they don't figure out how to open doors!" Tyrannosaurus Rex living up to its name. And it still looks darn good twenty years later - some of the animatronics may be a bit stiff, but the filmmakers never overreach what they can do. The 3D upgrade is nice, although only rarely a big deal. It's a shame Jordan's doesn't run genuine sideways-70mm IMAX any more; the digital projection was occasionally fuzzy, especially with things in the middle distance that maybe should have been more clear.

Then again, I was in the second row looking up at a six-story screen because I arrived just a couple minutes before showtime. Not complaining - I didn't haul my butt out to Reading to not have life-sized 3D dinosaurs in my lap - but, man, I wish Colin Treverrow was shooting the next sequel with the big cameras. That would be genuinely awesome.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: Still Mine at Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (10am, Sunday 21 April 2013) and Buster Keaton Shorts at the Brattle Theatre (7:30pm, Sunday 21 April 2013)

Also stubless: Everything horrible that happened this week. I'd figured on going to see something downtown Monday evening, but a couple of bombs at the end of the Boston Marathon scotched that. I said it elsewhere on the blog, but it's worth re-iterating: What kind of monster attacks the Marathon? The elite runners are from every country, ethnicity, and culture; the rest are just ordinary people doing something very difficult, often as a way to raise money for charity. I went straight home instead, and then mostly continued a busy week as normal until I got text messages on the way out the door on Friday, telling me to turn on the TV. That's when I heard of the mess the previous night and that the T wouldn't be running. I let WCVB run, but mostly went into the back room and tried to work.

It wasn't really an act of defiance, trying to do normal stuff; I just get antsy doing nothing. I went to Antiviral after the "shelter-in-place" order was lifted, because I wanted to see it and the Saturday midnight show was out of the question (I wanted to see Still Mine there Sunday morning, and the folks at the theater probably wouldn't let me spend the night). I was glad to see a fair amount of other people out that night; if we were making a statement, I guess, it was that as much as the attack angered us, we were going to treat it as an irritant, rather than life-changing.

I wouldn't be free of it right away; I had tickets for Saturday's ballgame, where security was tighter than usual but the pregame ceremonies were, as usual on such a big day, excellent. That's the game that will probably become known as the "our fucking city" game, which was actually great baseball in addition to being cathartic: David Ortiz came back from injury, Mike Napoli and Daniel Nava continued murdering baseballs, and Clay Buchholz continued to be a beast. I did have to to scratch my heads at some of the drunks doing "USA!" chants - I mean, I love my country, but this was a local attack, with the man who had been captured a citizen. It's okay to be provincial at times, even if an "us versus them" mindset generally does more harm than good.

Anyway: Movies happened again after that; I headed to Boston Common for Oblivion, then slept fast enough to get to Still Mine in the morning - got there early but was seated at the last moment, having waited like half an hour for a crepe and a smoothie. I limped home because my new shoes were digging into my ankles in a really painful way (#BostonStrong!), re-emerging just in time for Not So Silent Cinema's Buster Keaton Shorts, because Buster Keaton.


* * (out of four)
Seen 19 April 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run/@fter Midnite, digital)

I wanted to like this movie more than many I've seen in some time; Brandon Cronenberg's first feature has him doing the same sort of grotesque, satirical body-horror that his father made his name with but has eventually moved away from. And Cronenberg fils certailly has enough cool ideas to be worth watching, but he also doesn't seem to have his father's skill at teasing a story out of it that makes the audience shake as well as squirm.

Antiviral isn't really boring, at least, but it is kind of nonsensical. I can deal with a world where people eat 3D-printed meat grown from the DNA of celebrities and pay to contract their recent illnesses; I don't know where faking one's death makes any sense in it, though. The motives of the characters seemed vague rather than alien. The late bits about corporate ruthlessness didn't quite have the teeth of the attacks on celebrity culture.

I'm kind of torn on whether I wish Caleb Landry Jones and Sarah Gadon had better characters to play, too. Gadon, especially; she was good in Cronenberg pêre's Cosmopolis last year, and her character here has the potential for a tragic arc disproving the "celebrities are not people" assertion from earlier on in the movie as she suffers out of the limelight, but there's an argument for keeping her cryptic as well. It doesn't quite work out for me, though - I see the ideas, but I have a hard time getting excited about them.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 April 2013 in AMC Boston Common #16 (first-run, DCP)

Here's something to ponder - if Oblivion had come out thirty-ish years ago, I would have wanted all the toys from it. Today, big sci-fi epics are so common that there's no toy line for this at all, despite it being full of cool and merchandisable things.

Kind of surprising, because it sort of feels like the kind of movie that's built to sell toys; it's a bunch of not hugely original ideas pieced together in a fairly capable form. Actually, "fairly capable" undersells it - co-writer/director Joseph Kosinski executes this movie very well indeed - he stages actions scenes that look cool and are easy to follow, and knows how to give something expressionless and mechanical genuine menace. He deploys Tom Cruise well, and while Cruise may sort of be aging out of this sort of movie (he's noticeably older than his female co-stars in close-up), he has an easy charisma in the part, as much as you can when you start a movie with "after a mandatory memory wipe..."

The story fits together, more or less - it's easy to find holes but just as easy to smooth them over (though I think I might have preferred it without the opening narration). It's a shame that they couldn't come up with a more clever line for the climax than the one f-bomb PG-13 allows. The music by M83 is pretty great - it's modern and driving without feeling particularly unusual (Kosinski apparently has a knack for this; the Daft Punk soundtrack was arguably the best part of Tron: Legacy). The supporting cast is nice, although there's no question that the movie is about Tom Cruise with a side of Morgan Freeman.

And, man, there is stuff in it that would make great toys.

Buster Keaton Shorts

Weird thing - I think I've seen all four Buster Keaton shorts presented relatively recently. Within the last couple years, anyway. I've already got reviews for "The Goat" and "One Week" elsewhere, so I'll leave those to be read in those posts (the one which includes "The Goat" has just been crazy popular over the last few weeks; I'm guessing someone linked to it when talking about the Somerville Theatre's upcoming silent series). But let's get to the other two!

"The High Sign"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 April 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Not-So-Silent-Cinema, digital)

A thoroughly goofy short which has Buster tossed off a train, disrespect some cops, then stumble into the service of both a fiendish secret society and the man they intend to assassinate while working at a shooting gallery, and then fight villains off in a house filled with secret passages and trap doors. All within twenty minutes! It's a remarkable dense bit of silent comedy, with more intricate set-pieces than many current features have.

Some bits of the setting and humor are dated, but nothing that relies on Buster's ingenuity both as a filmmaker and a character. It's actually an amazing bit of filmmaking, both technically and in pacing, even if it does include some jokes early on that are only amusing, rather than gut-busting.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 April 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Not-So-Silent-Cinema, digital)

"Cops" once again finds Buster Keaton in trouble with the law, as he was with "The Goat", this time as a love-struck but trouble-finding young man whose attempts to make enough money to woo the mayor's daughter find him accidentally committing a number of crimes, until finally the city's whole police force is after him.

Like almost all Keaton films, it's frequently very funny, especially since Keaton has a knack for escalation, even within the confines of a short. Some of the gags here aren't necessarily among his funniest - some are undoubtedly funnier in the context of the 1920s, some just have a set-up that victimizes people in a way that's not entirely amusing - but it's got a pretty good chase or two, and it's quite funny to watch Buster dig himself into a bigger and bigger hole.

Made it this far? Have yourself some Horrible Photography!

 photo IMAG0345_zps3a0d04f1.jpg

That there is Not-So-Silent Cinema, taken from the Brattle's balcony. Kyle Tuttle plays banjo, Brendan Cooney is on keyboards (he also composed the scores), and Andy Bergman plays clarinet & jaw harp.

One of the reasons it's always fun to see silent movies is that with new accompaniment, it's not quite like seeing a new movie, but it's a new experience. For instance, NSSC puts a lot of bluegrass into their scores, a fun and energetic sound for comedies like this which feels more or less period-appropriate, especially in the more pastoral shorts. Cooney is also an entertaining narrator, tossing in information that may or may not be true but is fun to hear nevertheless.

They're a fun group. Their main April tour has completed, but their website shows a few early-May shows in Newton and Bethlehem, PA, if you happen to be in that area - a trip well worth taking.

There, the end. Now, to write up Next Week and then get to working on IFFBoston stuff!

LoreSpring BreakersBUFF: I Declare WarBUFF: Blue DreamBUFF: A Band Called DeathBUFF: Guilty of RomanceBUFF: See You Next Tuesday & Jug FaceBUFF: The RamblerBUFF: PietaBUFF: White Reindeer & Cheap ThrillsBUFF: Samurai CopBUFF: Los Chidos, Vanishing Waves, & Big Ass Spider!

StarbuckThaleCarnival of Souls & Spider BabyPhantasm IIDr. Who and the DaleksDreddEvil Dead (2013)

The HostBeyond the HillsOrioles 8, Sox 5KochFrom Up on Poppy HillThe Company You KeepGI Joe: Retaliation

AntiviralSox over RoyalsOblivion

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Schlock Around the Clock: Carnival of Souls, Spider Baby, Phantasm 2, Dr. Who and the Daleks, and Dredd

I'm sure that the Orson Welles Theater in Cambridge wasn't the only independent theater that had B-movie marathons under the name of "Schlock Around the Clock", but there are apparently still some fond memories of that even though the place burned down decades ago. The Brattle revived the tradition last year in something close to its original form - more an overnight than a 24-hour marathon, and I'm guessing folks liked the idea more than the execution, since it mutated into a weekend film series for 2013.

That's cool with me; I think I realized a few months ago that the definition of middle-age is still wanting to see the midnight movie but really wishing it started at 8:30pm or so. This was a pretty easy set of movies to catch, even around baseball returning and other things I wanted to see. I didn't catch all of it - I'd seen the Sunday matinees at sci-fi marathons in the past and hadn't particularly liked them, so decided to watch some baseball after Renoir, and opted for the new Evil Dead instead of the one-off showing of Drafthouse Films's "Trailer War" compilation on Saturday. I wanted to see Evil Dead with a crowd and, besides, two hours of trailers is a lot and I think it was the only digital thing on the schedule.

The big chunks of 35mm on the schedule, at least, was awesome. Carnival of Souls and Spider Baby were both new restorations from the UCLA archive and looked gorgeous. According to Brattle creative director Ned Hinkle's introduction, director Jack Hill was apparently tickled to hear that someone was showing the movie and emailed to thank the theater, which is pretty cool. The Phantasm II print was also a lot better than they were expecting - if it's the one used for the new Blu-ray, that's going to look pretty sweet.

The Dr. Who print wasn't the greatest, but it was a good-looking original IB Technicolor print, complete with British Board of Film Censors approval on the front, that the Brattle now owns themselves. That means they'll certainly be pulling it out for a 50th-Anniversery-of-Doctor Who event this fall, and the sci-fi festival will probably try to get their hands on it soon enough (wait until 2015, guys; too soon otherwise). Fun to see after spotting this while I was on vacation in London last year. I forget whether that one or the Dredd print was the one where whoever had projected it last forgot to label the reels, so they had to guess the order between the first and last. Got it right, at least.

In short, it was a pretty enjoyable weekend, even if it was a lot of nuts coming right after BUFF.

Carnival of Souls

* * * (out of four)
Seen 5 April 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Schlock Around the Clock, 35mm)

A lot of time when writing about horror movies, I lament that there's not necessarily any underlying logic to their mythologies, even in strictly metaphorical terms - it's just scenes that are creepy stitched together in a way to keep the audience off-balance. That is 1962's Carnival of Souls in a nutshell - a bunch of random spooky scenes that somehow become a movie out of director Herk Harvey's sheer force of will.

It starts with some boys-versus-girls drag racing which ends with the ladies' car being forced of a bridge into a river. One of its occupants, Mary Henry (Candace Hillgoss), makes it back to land. Six months later, with no memory of the incident, she's taken a job as a church organist off in Utah. It's strictly a job to her, to the consternation of the minister (Art Ellison). She initially rebuffs the maternal nosiness of her landlady (Frances Feist) and the more intimate interest of her neighbor (Sidney Berger). She's drawn to the shuttered fairgrounds just outside the city, and soon starts to see visions of the dead even as people seem to act as if she's not there.

Herk Harvey and writer John Clifford make some choices with Carnival of Souls that seem quite peculiar to the audience that has seen a lot of movies - especially genre films - and knows what makes them tick, either instinctively or analytically. Right away, we see the boys who ran the car in which Mary was a passenger off the road lying to the cops about how the incident went down, which seems to set up a revenge scenario - but, no, Mary just leaves town and neither she nor the film looks back. Maybe this connection she has with the dead will help solve the mystery of this haunted place? No, not so much. For better or for worse, these threads only the slimmest of connections.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Spider Baby

* * * (out of four)
Seen 5 April 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Schlock Around the Clock, 35mm)

Spider Baby is subtitled "or, the Maddest Story Ever Told", and while that probably wasn't necessarily the case even when it was filmed or released (three and a half years later)... It is a weird one, no question, still able to raise some eyebrows forty or fifty years later with its particular madness that leaps between daffy and downright disgusting.

Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) has been taking care of the residents of Merrye House for generations now, a kindly caretaker of a family whose particular condition has them start a horrible mental regression as they enter their teens. Not knowing this, distant cousins Peter (Quinn Redeker) and Emily Howe (Carol Ohmart) come to collect the building as an inheritance only to discover that there are still Merryes there - spider-obsessed Virginia (Jill Banner), slightly more responsible Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn), and hulking brother Ralph (Sid Haig). Staying overnight may not be the best idea.

For all the nasty things that go on in Spider Baby, it's actually disarmingly sweet much of the time. Lon Chaney Jr., who spent much of his career portraying hulking, intimidating monsters, plays Bruno more as a fussy, loving caregiver than anything else, patient with his charges even if he is exasperated, awkwardly trying to shield them and their cousins from each other. Polite but vaguely threatening would be the usual way to play it, but having Chaney of all people play uncomfortable but kind of funny is doubly odd.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Phantasm II

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 April 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Schlock Around the Clock, 35mm)

In general, it's probably not a great idea to settle in for a sequel without having seen the predecessor, especially when dealing with a filmmaker with as peculiar a vision as Don Coscarelli. But, hey, the Brattle didn't book the original Phantasm before this twenty-fifth anniversary screening of Phantasm II, did they? So, sure, maybe this thing makes sense with a bit of context, but I'm guessing it's still downright weird.

There is a helpful recap, showing how nine years ago, only two people survived when The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) - an extradimensional alien disguised as an undertaker - came to their town. Now Mike (James Le Gros), who was just a kid at the time, is being released from an asylum to hook up with Reggie (Reggie Bannister) to follow the Tall Man's trail. He's got a psychic connection to a girl in Oregon, Liz (Paula Irvine), where the Tall Man seems to be setting up shop Add one hitchhiker by the name of Alchemy (Samantha Phillips) and a bunch of flying balls armed with knives and lasers, and you've got yourself a fight.

Give Don Coscarelli credit - he does not stint on the strange. Casting Angus Scrimm as a murderous undertaker is something anybody might do, and taking the next step to reanimating corpses isn't that far out. Coscarelli, on the other hand, adds premonitions, portals, and more to the hovering Sentinel Spheres and shrunken dwarf minions inherited from the first movie. As Mike and Reggie follow the Tall Man's trail, it leads through a series of destroyed towns, giving an apocalyptic feel that horror sequels with their boosted power levels and accumulating mythology should have more often, but seldom do.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Dr. Who and the Daleks

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 7 April 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Schlock Around the Clock, 35mm)

Alternate realities are a staple of science fiction, and this movie (along with its sequel) are an interesting example of the idea - not so much because its characters explore parallel universes, but because they're a strangely skewed version of a sci-fi favorite themselves. The first movie based upon the TV series Doctor Who changes almost every detail in ways that the fans will likely have trouble looking past, but is kind of fun if they do.

Here, Dr. Who (Peter Cushing) is an elderly, eccentric inventor who has built a machine that can transport people anywhere in space and time with the help of his granddaughters Barbara (Jennie Linden) and Susan (Roberta Tovey), a child genius. Not quite so bright is Ian (Roy Castle), Barbara's new boyfriend, who accidentally activates it, sending them to another planet. They opt to explore a little bit, finding a strange city populated by the Daleks - warlike creatures who travel within personal armored vehicles to protect against radiation.

I know, fans, believe me, I know - that's not the way the characters were portrayed in the series at all! But put fifty years of surprisingly consistent continuity out of your head, and it's not really a bad set-up: The precocious/curious kid with an indulgent, kind of doddering grandfather who nevertheless makes the suitor for his quite capable adult grandchild nervous and accident prone dynamic is arguably a more cohesive, entertaining unit than that presented on the show in its early years.

Full review on eFilmCritic.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 April 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Schlock Around the Clock, 35mm)

I don't really need to restate what I said when I saw it last fall, other than to point out that I'm going to be asking people to produce their ticket stubs for this when they complain about Hollywood putting out brainless, boring action pap for the next couple of years (stubs for The Raid will also be accepted). It's good stuff that did everything right but which nobody went to see.

And it's still pretty good. The action was just as hard-core as I remembered, and everything still looks good in 2D 35mm, even if some of the effects were better in 3D. It's a crying shame that we almost certainly won't get a sequel on film (movie-continuity stories apparentlly are planned for the pages of Judge Dredd Megazine), because I kind of wanted to see what these guys would do with the Dark Judges and other more broadly sci-fi concepts.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Talk Cinema: Lore, Renoir, and Still Mine

I didn't actually see Lore at a Talk Cinema showing - that was the plan, but then it got delayed a week due to that old-fashioned February blizzard, bumping it to the week of the sci-fi marathon. That means that there are two movies on the ten-movie season pass I didn't get to see (I forget exactly which one played while I was in London), and I'm not sure that I'll spring for it again next year. It's nice to see movies early, sure, and sometimes you get good discussion, but it's also $15+ for a 10am Sunday morning show of things that generally show up later.

And the discussion can be iffy at times, too. It starts with the comment cards - a half-hour to get one's thoughts together after the movie isn't really enough time, so you hear a lot of puffed-up superlatives when they're read the next week. Plus, folks can get stuck on the path where the host guides them.

For Renoir, we had a fellow who produces new plays most of the time, and he went on and on about how "brave" it was for the movie to consist of lengthy, static shots for most of the time. And, certainly, I agree that it was an unusual choice, but given the older art-house audience that this was likely targeting even in its native France, it wasn't really going out on any sort of limb. But we got into an anti-Hollywood mode, and talking about how good it was for a movie to be slow sort of prevented much discussion of why this particular movie benefited from that sort of pace.

Similarly, Peter Keogh - amid a few jokes about the late, lamented Boston Phoenix - made a comment about Still Mine having a disturbing subtext about being anti-government-regulation, dropping the phrase "Tea Party" (triggered, in part, from his having first seen the film during election season last fall), and the room full of good Massachusetts liberals wasn't going to let that go. I think it's a misguided observation, considering that the movie (a) certainly has no problem with Canada's universal health care, and (b) has a line from Campbell Scott's character that explains the issue perfectly - that these rules are about standards, and when enforcement loses sight of that, it's an invitation to absurd situations like the one depicted here. The funny thing is, I think this is something liberals and conservatives should be able to agree on, as the effect of these onerous rules is to push business toward the corporations that can absorb their expense.

We talked about that so much that we really didn't get much of a chance to discuss the James Cromwell character's father, who clearly casts a tall shadow and is linked to the main characters by the baseball the group found kind of problematic. Ah well, at least I was able to sort that out for the review.

One other thing I noticed about Renoir and Still Mine: They appeared to have some cheap opening credits. Admittedly, I have tended to think that pretty much all opening titles look like they were rendered on an Amiga 500 ever since digital projection at 2K started becoming the norm (and honestly, before that, when a great deal of post-production started going digital), and I was sitting in the front row for movies projected from what appears to be a Blu-ray. But these looked like placeholders until something more elaborate could be created.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 March 2013 in Landmark Kendal Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

Set Lore in almost any other time and place, and it's an impressive adventure story of a certain type, with fine young actors playing kids who must make an impossible-seeming journey against incredible odds. But it's not set in some generic time period; it's set in the aftermath of World War II, with filmmaker Cate Shortland determined that we not give its title character our sympathy too readily.

See, Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) is about fifteen, and her parents (Ursina Lardi & Hans-Jochen Wagner) were active in the Nazi party - she a scientist, he a member of the SS. Soon, she is the one left in charge of her siblings: Liesel (Nele Trebs), a few years younger; Günther (André Frid) & Jürgen (Mika Seidel), twins in the mid-single-digits; and newborn Peter. Their grandmother awaits in Hamburg, but the country's infrastructure would be a mess even if the Allies weren't busy dividing it up. Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina), a young man they encounter along the way, may be able to help, but can the family trust anyone now?

The obvious thing to provide a twist here happens - Thomas does, in fact, have a Star of David stamped on his papers - but it doesn't necessarily happen in the obvious way. Thomas is neither overtly angry and Lore and her family nor some ideally kind-hearted person despite all that has happened to him. Lore learns this through glimpses, and the audience does with her, but doesn't necessarily react immediately, giving everyone involved time to mull things over, and maybe think pragmatically about what they need from each other. Shortland plays things a little ambiguous at times, especially with Thomas's age and what that would make Lore to him between being potential love interest, kid sister, or just a kid. Malina does a nice job of portraying him as both mysterious and complex.

Full review on eFilmCritic.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 April 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Talk Cinema, Blu-ray)

I'm certain that I must, at some point, learned that famed Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir and noted filmmaker Jean Renoir were father and son. Somehow the information failed to stick, so re-learning that bit of information was kind of neat. That's not all the movie has to offer, happily; it's a modest but interesting look at the Renoir family from someone who straddled its boundary.

That would be Andrée "Dedée" Heuschling (Christa Theret), who arrives at the family's Riviera estate in 1916 saying that the artist's wife has suggested she model. Auguste's youngest son, Coco (Thomas Doret) says his mother is dead, but brings her to the main house anyway. She'll do, says the artist (Michel Bouquet), bidding her to come bak daily. Soon the household will grow by a member, as son Jean (Vincent Rottiers) returns home from the war, a handsome fellow not sure what he will do after.

One can tell straight off that this is a movie about a painter; the leaves on the trees form a colorful backdrop and one of my first thoughts upon seeing both Dedée and Coco was that they had the sort of reddish-orange hair that one sees on the canvas more than in life. Director Gilles Bourdos, cinematographer Mark Ping Bing Lee and the rest of the crew responsible for the look of the film reference a number of paintings by Renoir and others, and even when they're not doing so, they're making a film that is quite a pleasure to look at. If you feel that a film about an artist should represent their art, Renoir certainly has that covered.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Still Mine (aka Still)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 April 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Talk Cinema, digital)

It's funny what gets to a person during this type of movie. I was doing okay through most of Still Mine (which played festivals as "Still", and may have kept that name in some places), and then I see that this elderly couple has a door frame where they recorded the growth of their kids and grandkids like my own grandparents did, and then I start to lose it. I suspect that there's a thing like that in this movie for everyone, which will make it even more effective beyond just being a fine movie on its own.

Craig Morrison (James Cromwell) is one of those wiry old farmers who may have slowed down some, but still tends to his strawberries, chickens, and the like in his mid-eighties. Though he hasn't changed much over the years, the world around him has - not just because the local market will no longer purchase his berries because of policy, but because his wife of sixty years, Irene (Geneviève Bujold) is in the early stages of dementia. He wants to build a smaller house to meet their needs, but if he thought selling strawberries involved onerous regulations, he can barely imagine modern building codes.

Still Mine is about memory and continuity, most obviously in how Irene is slipping away despite Craig's attempts to remain the independent, capable person he is. Writer/director Michael McGowan also populates the movie with more tangible symbols of these ideas, though, from that briefly-glimpsed door frame to a kitchen table that has, in its own way, recorded the Morrison family's entire life. The film starts and ends with the story of a baseball Craig owns, signed by both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and while its purpose in the story can sometimes be unclear, it's also a solid representation of Craig's memories of his father, a figure who may be long dead but who clearly still looms large in his life. These connections may seem temporary and massless, as Irene's deterioration suggests, but that's only one side of it - lives well-lived, we see, leave impressions.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 19 April - 25 April 2013

Do you like film festivals? Of course you do, they're awesome! Boston's best starts on Wednesday, and there's plenty of other good stuff around it.

  • The Tenth Annual Independent Film Festival Boston starts on Wednesday, with The Spectacular Now kicking things off at the Somerville Theatre for opening night. The festival takes over all five screens on Thursday, with another teen-focused movie, The Way, Way Back playing on the big screen. One of the other movies playing, Before You Know It (about how the gay community deals with aging), also has a free screening Thursday afternoon as part of the UMass Boston Film Series.
  • Before that festival starts, The Boston International Film Festival wraps up at Boston Common. Among the things of interest are locally-produced This Killing Business at 10pm Friday, Queen City with Vivica A. Fox and a number of musical guests at 10:10pm Saturday, and closing night picture Mission Park at 6pm Sunday.
  • Surprisingly, Boston Common only opens one movie this week, Oblivion featuring Tom Cruise as one of the last people left on Earth after an evacuation. It also features Morgan Freeman and comes from writer/director Joseph Kosinski, who hopefully has better material here than with Tron: Legacy. It also plays at the Arlington Capitol, Fenway, Fresh Pond, and Jordan's Furniture. The Imax-branded screens on the Common and at the furniture store will be playing a special reformatted version for those screens' 1.40:1 aspect ratio.

    Unusually, it's the Regal 'plex at Fenway that has a couple smaller openings this week. In addition to picking up The Place Beyond the Pines, they've also gotThe Lords of Salem, the new Rob Zombie horror movie about a DJ in modern-day Salem who may have been warned about some group seeking revenge for old crimes. They've also got a one-week booking of Girl Rising, a documentary about nine girls around the world facing big challenges. It's been playing Gathr screenings for the past few months, apparently doing well enough to get Regal's attention and a one-week booking across the chain. Narrators include Anne Hathaway, Chloe Moretz, Meryl Streep, and Kerry Washington.
  • Kendall Square also has a one-week booking, A Fierce Green Fire. It's also a documentary with multiple narrators (including Streep) about the history of environmental activism. It's playing inconvenient times around other shows, so don't wait on it, folks who cheered the preview before The Company You Keep last weekend!

    Also opening there is Blancanieves, which all but swept the Goyas, Spain's equivalent of the Oscars. It's certainly interesting - it's a retelling of Snow White as a black & white silent film with the characters recast as matadors - but I don't know that it's that great. Haven't seen much like it, though.
  • Two days left of Upstream Color at the Brattle, and it's well worth checking out. After that, there's a series of one-night events before they join the IFFBoston party next weekend: Three Buster Keaton Shorts with accompaniment by the Not So Silent Orchestra on Sunday; a DocYard event on Monday, "An Evening of Localore", with PBS NewsHour's Hari Sreenivasan and WGBH President Jon Abott there to discuss this public-media initiative; Balagan's "Vicious Circle" on Tuesday, featuring cyclical structure including a Thomas Dexter "16mm proection performance"; a Matt Damon double feature on Wednesday with True Grit & Ocean's 13; and, finally, "Found vs. Found" on Thursday. Brooklyn Brewery sponsors this showdown between the Found Footage Festival and FOUND magazine. "Music, comedy, and blood" are promised.
  • If you miss Upstream Color at the Brattle, the Coolidge Corner Theatre will have it in the GoldScreen all week. The screening room, meanwhile, opens Room 237, a documentary which focuses on the various theories, insane and otherwise, that fans have about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. It's got midnight screenings on Friday and Saturday night as well as the usual.

    Another new release is midnight-only - Brandon Cronenberg's Antiviral, in which he attempts to channel the old-school version of his father with modern body horror, including fans collecting celebrity diseases. It plays screen #2 on Friday night but the screening room on Saturday night, because it's time for the monthly screening of The Room. They've also got a 35mm print of Ken Russell's trippy, creepy Altered States on both nights.

    Sunday morning's Talk Cinema screening is Still Mine, with James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold as an elderly Canadian couple, trying to build a house as wife Bujold begins to fade mentally. On Monday, they've got a Science On Screen presentation of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, with BU Biomedical Engineering professor Frank Guenther talking about developing ways for people like Jean-Dominique Bauby to communicate.
  • Two series come to an end at the MFA - The National Center for Jewish Film’s Jewishfilm.2013, with two screenings each on Friday and Saturday, and The Boston International Children's Film Festival, running through Sunday. I can personally vouch for A Letter to Momo, a nifty, Ghibliesque story of a girl moving to a small island town after her father dies; they also have Zafara, which I missed at Fantasia but had hoped to see.

    Some of the slack is picked up with Samurai Cinema, which ties in with their exhibit of Samurai armor; it actually started on the 18th and includes shows Friday, Saturday, and Wednesday, including The Hidden Fortress, Kuroneko, Onibaba, Sword of Doom and the original Harakiri. Good stuff, and the series will continue through May. Also, if the exhibit is the same one I saw in Montreal last summer, it is pretty darn awesome.
  • the Harvard Film Archive also starts a new series that will continue into May with L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema, featuring programs by African-American filmmakers who studied at UCLA in the 1960s and 1970s and produced this work about a decade later. Director Bill Woodbury will be on hand to introduce his film Bless Their Little Hearts (and short "The Pocketbook") on Friday at 7pm, with curator Allyson Nadia Field introducing Bush Mama on Saturday at 7pm. Also presented this week are Passing Through (9:15pm Saturday), a package including featurette "A Different Image" at 7pm Sunday, and My Brother's Wedding at the same time Monday.

    There's also a free double feature of two Taiwanese documentaries, A Year in the Clouds and Go Grandriders! on Saturday afternoon. Last week's Proust series concludes on Sunday afternoon with Swann in Love at 4:30pm.
  • Dr. Kenneth Anger will be appearing at ArtsEmerson this weekend, appearing between screenings to discus his work. That includes two films from his Magick Lantern Cycle (Lucifer Rising at 6pm Friday and Scorpion Rising at 9pm, with the times flipped on Saturday), along with new work not on DVD.

    There will also be a guest Saturday afternoon, with Lawrence Millman introducing The Wedding of Palo, which plays as part of an early-documentaries-of-the-Arctic double feature with Nanook of the North. Another early documentary, Man with a Movie Camera, plays Sunday afternoon. Tuesday night's Bright Lights screening is We're Not Broke, with executive producer Charles Davidson taking questions on this docuemtnary about the current economic crisis.
  • The ICA has a single screening on Sunday afternoon of "The International Cinema Exposition 2013"
  • iMovieCafe has NH4 in both Telugu and Tamil languages at Fresh Pond, along with Gouravam in Telugu only. Just Telugu for Friday and Saturday late shows of Baadshah, too.
  • In addition to Oblivion, the Arlington Capitol picks 42 up a week into its release and also gets The Gatekeepers after it finishes its runs at Kendall Square and Coolidge Corner

My plans? Still haven't seen Trance, 42, and The Place Beyond the Pines, so I'd better get on that before IFFBoston. I'll almost almost certainly hit up Oblivion and Antiviral, and strongly consider seeing if I can fit Side Effects in around the ballgame on Saturday.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Recent genre stuff: Thale and The Host

Not really planning on having a theme to this one aside from "stuff I wanted to knock off before doing a big catch-up post", but it doesn't quite work out that way. Both wound up being genre films missing fairly important chunks of their story.

It's an odd coincidence, seeing these two in close proximity (albeit with a bunch of Brattle Schlock Around the Clock entries and Evil Dead in between). It's also kind of surprising to see how much better relative newcomer Aleksander Nordaas does than Andrew Niccol at both getting a story out of a setting and portraying a creature that looks human but is, underneath her appearance, quite alien.

To be completely honest, I don't think there's a lot of real plot to Thaleat any point; it's an hour of building a mythology and fifteen minutes of having the other part of it show up. But it's got Silje Reinammo being gorgeous and tapping into something about how, while Thale is not quite human, she is not exactly huldra either. There's tragedy to this movie.

Whereas with The Host... Ugh, that friggin' movie. There's never that sense of being not-quite-human with Wanda - heck, even calling her "Wanda" is a sign that the storytellers don't know what they're doing. "Wanderer" sounds strange and culturally-different and mysterious, which is exactly what you want your alien who has lived in all sorts of different biologies and had hundreds of years of experiences. Or at least, I think she has; Wanda says she's a thousand years old but the implication is that the Souls don't have faster-than-light travel, so maybe a large chunk of that lifespan has been spent between stars in a sort of stasis, and she's actually still fairly young. Or maybe what Souls have for a brain is mostly memory storage, and they do most of their thinking with the human brain they attach to.

That would be an interesting bit of science fiction. So, of course, it's ignored in favor of mooning over boys and cutting Wanda off the moment she starts to describe anything beyond Earth. It's not even like following up on this would take time away from important things happening, because of all the slow and stupid. Ugh, this friggin' movie. Plus...


Is it just me, or does the Emily Browning character whom Wanda winds up inhabiting at the end come across as creepily young? Which leads me to ask, is this a thing Stephenie Meyer does regularly - set up a pairing between the odd guy out in the love triangle and someone who is just Way Too Young? I seem to remember it being a point of contention where the last Twilight book/movie is concerned.


Not that I really know anything about Twilight beyond what I've been able to absorb from the air - the previews for the movies looked laughable and I've got a whole big pile of books that look interesting to geth through first. Still, when I saw that Niccol and Saoirse Ronan were attached to The Host, my first thought was that this was going to be a sort of battle over what the film would eventually be - Niccol on the side of good, Meyer on the side of bad. Now, I'm less confident of Niccol meaning "good" - Gattaca and The Truman Show were a long time ago, and what he's made since those films hasn't been nearly so impressive - but I don't think he makes something this terrible on his own. So it looks like Meyer won this battle.

I just hope Niccol can bounce back; he really needs to. And I hope that Nordaas can get something higher-profile, because he's got some potential.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 April 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (special presentation, Blu-ray)

"I think it would make a good short" is kind of a nasty thing to say about a feature film, a compliment so backhanded that the implied praise for how skillfully many things are done can seem completely obliterated by the implication that the filmmaker thought too highly of his minor idea. I admit, it was my first reaction to Thale. My second reaction, though, is that maybe writer/director Aleksander Nordaas should have reached a little higher.

Elvis (Erlend Nervold) is filling in for a friend with a cleaning service that specializes in taking care of human remains, and it's proving to be pretty rough on his stomach. He and his supervisor Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) are called to a remote house in the Norwegian woods where the resident seems to have met a particularly grisly fate. Inside, Elvis stumbles on a secret passage that leads to a secret basement with canned food, notebooks, a tape recorder, and a beautiful, silent girl (Silje Reinammo).

Nordaas has half, or even three quarters, of an impressive horror movie here: The set-up is great. The backstory he gives to the girl and the owner of the cabin is intriguing and becomes more creepy the closer the audience looks at it, with every new revelation stoking both the audience's revulsion and curiosity in roughly equal measure. He pulls the curtain back slowly, revealing just enough new information to keep the audience satisfied, recognizes a good, intense situation when he sees one, and gets excellent work from the design staff and passable results from the effects guys.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

The Host (2013)

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 April 2013 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

The Host is fairly awful, but in some ways the basic fact of its awfulness isn't the worst part. I hate that it and In Time back to back make me wonder if Gattaca was something of a fluke on screenwriter/director Andrew Niccol's part. I hate that it wastes the time of some talented people, including star Saoirse Ronan. I hate that this was made in part to cash in on the success of the Twilight franchise (the source material is by the same author), but the fans of that whom I know were so indifferent to its existence that it probably didn't end up pleasing anyone. And I really hate that there are moments when the story has the potential to go in interesting directions but instead runs in the blandest possible direction.

Sometime in the future, Earth has been colonized by an alien race that calls themselves "The Souls", parasitic invertebrates that take up residence in the human brain and continue on in an idealized imitation of human life. There are some free humans remaining; one, Melanie (Ronan) is captured near the start and has a Soul implanted. Melanie, however, has an incredibly strong force of will, and has soon convinced the "Wanderer" in her body to flee and seek out her little brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), boyfriend Jared (Max Irons), and uncle Jeb (William Hurt) - with a Soul Seeker (Diane Kruger) in dogged pursuit.

Put aside all of the lack of ambition in this movie, just looking at it as a basic sci-fi B-movie, and it's still hard to overstate just how boring and flat-out stupid it can be. There's a long period in the middle where Jeb and his group have captured "Wanderer" (later called "Wanda") and locked her up but never, as far as I can tell, ask her any questions. The audience is told the same information several times, and when Wanda & Melanie argue, it's often cringe-worthily trite dialogue. A fairly important change comes out of nowhere, only to be quickly reversed and half-heartedly explained afterward. Melanie changes her mind on whether or not Wanda should tell her family that she's still around inside her head several times for reasons that either make no sense or contradict the idea that Melanie's consciousness survived out of force of will pretty strongly. It's a barrage of things that make no sense that don't even have the virtue of being exciting enough to distract from their stupidity.

Full review on eFilmCritic.